The Ballad Of the Etruscan Snot Pencil

They often say that practice makes perfect. I think rather that it makes for inchoate fury – if you are not careful. I propose to calm the situation and make it worse.

The term “practiced upon ” is one from the 19th century – used to describe someone who was being imposed upon – or worse – who was being mocked by a group of people for their amusement. It appears in the literature of O Henry, Mark Twain, and countless others. The stories feature some tenderfoot to the west or unfortunate country fellow brought into the salons of the East  who sis et upon as a figure of fun and told any number of tales. Initiation rites are imposed and the basic humour is always the native savaging the newcomer.

In some tales revenge is extracted and the tables turned. In others the whole thing is just a sneer in print. It can also include the humiliation of foreigners in Britain or France on a cultural basis. Most of the impositions of Italy or Middle Europe are financial fleecings. Hence the title of this piece – the business of selling antiquities to a New World rube on the basis of history and unfamiliarity therewith.

Consider: how many times have you been imposed on with drop bears and yowies and sniggering references to Australian things? And how many times have you done it to overseas visitors? And who has gotten all the amusement out of it? Is there any less pleasant feeling than realising that you have stumbled into a nest of native wits and are being practiced upon?

What do you do?

Good manners suggest that you do nothing except excuse yourself at the earliest opportunity and leave. Kindly religious feelings abjure you to forget and forgive. But you always feel that you have been got at. The Guild has a far better suggestion when you detect a sell going on; participate fully.

Most native wits do not know when to stop. If you give them the slightest encouragement they will enlarge upon their jokes until they go from puerile to puffy. They cannot stop themselves from extravagance and bluff – eventually they will arrive at the point where even they feel that it has gone too far.

You must compel them to go further – getting wilder and more obvious until someone in their own group is compelled to prick the bubble. Even then, rise to defend the prime jokester and keep asking pointed and intelligent questions – compelling them to eventually start to sweat and look for an escape.

Then, grasp them firmly in the iron embrace of friendship and steer them round to everyone in the room in turn, telling them to repeat the joke for the benefit of the newcomers. You will be hated as you have never been before, but will never, ever be preyed upon again.

It’s a small price to pay.

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The Day Of Fools

April 1st.

My day. My birthday. April 1st, 1948. And laugh if you will, when I give the signal, but it has always been a pretty good day for me – fool or not.

As a small child the day was always a celebration that had no connection to anyone outside my family and friends. You’re centered in that as a kid. It was only in the latter part of grade school that the significance of the occasion as a national prank day came to my attention.

Of course, in the natural way that school children have, it was seized upon as an excuse to torment me. And I was a little ashamed of the connection – until one person said that they were jealous of me because I would be able to do anything I wanted to others on April 1st morning and get away with it. It was the dawning of, if not wisdom, at least a new career.

Most April Fool jokes are practical to some extent, but short of damage to property, there’s not much of a practical nature that one little kid can do. But if they are inventive, coats can be switched around in cloak rooms, water coolers can be blocked with wadded paper, and similar low-grade japes. If they talk fast and in a complex manner they can infuriate the slower minds without being actually culpable. But they must stop at noon so as not to overstep the immunity.

This year I simply told the staff members at work that their employment contracts were being rescinded in favour of the system of physical slavery. They were advised to practice the phrases ” Yowsah ” and ” Sho Nuff “. When, by accident, the Star Track man delivered three bales of cotton, I left them to it.

 

A Guilty Plea From A Habitual Criminal

I have been advised by my solicitor to plead guilty to making jokes and to throw myself on the mercy of the court. He said this as he dumped all the papers into his briefcase and left the court. He could have had the decency to laugh as he went through the doors…

Making jokes is not normally a criminal offence – with the possible exception of Melbourne Comedy Weeks – and most jokesters do not need fear jail time. Of course if they crack the wrong jest in Iran, North Korea, or Saudi Arabia they can expect to be jugged and tortured…but then that could happen for eating cornflakes with the wrong spoon there. They are tough rooms to work.

Poking fun at people here in Australia is fairly safe, if you aim lower than the Magistrate’s Court when you do it – anything there and above is surrounded by enough statutory dignity to make funny business dangerous.  I would be interested to see a magistrate laugh, and to see what sort of entertainment would provoke it. I cannot imagine that they laugh at the foibles of the human condition – for so often they are the very people tasked with sorting out peccadillos and punishing people for having them. Perhaps their humour is of a transcendent kind, incomprehensible to the lower orders.

But sometimes you fire off good ones and nothing at all happens. No laughs, no smiles, – not even the alternate satisfaction of an outraged response. Zip. Nada. Pure silence. And after a period of time the horrible truth starts to dawn – the person sitting there in the audience like a lump of suet really has no clue as to what the joke is about.

This can be the result of stupidity – as with the frankly stupid – or of ignorance, when someone has no points of mutual reference for a topic. Sometimes that’s age, though I must say youth more frequently deprives people of understanding than does middle age. Old folks may not know the pop tunes or latest cultural reference, but they know a helluva lot more about the world than ever the young are taught. And they can take as much fun in simple and mannerly jokes as they young do with swearing and shock tactics. The old people reserve their shock tactics for worse situations…you don’t wanna be there when they cut loose.

Whatever the reason for the blank stare and the deadly silence after the punchline, the comedian should never panic and start to explain the joke. It might seem that it will right the situation – that it will result in a peal of laughter – but it never does. Frequently the dullard cannot grasp the joke even after it is dissected and laid out on a pin board – and every minute that they stand there goggling and gulping, the joke teller loses traction.

The best answer is to abandon the thing immediately. Move on to another joke or another topic. Or just move on – but as you go, turn to someone else in the audience and ask them to explain the failure. With a bit of luck they will.

It’s Like Funny In The Bank

If you can tell a joke that no-one expects, you can sell it for more money than they’d normally pay.

I know – I do this daily. Not here – you get this stuff for the price of the electricity to open your computer – but over on the column I write for the Perth camera store. They pay me to stay away from the place and write good things about stock and events they sell. If I ever stop writing they’ll just pay me to stay away…

Every daily post contains a product or service that is being touted – and I do so on a fair and honest basis – but every post equally contains one unexpected yock. Mostly I make fun of myself, as being the safest target. Of course, if I suspiciously look and sound like someone else and it puts the readers in mind of another figure in the photo trade…well that must just be a trick of the light. So far no rocks through the editorial window – from either inside or outside.

Some trades would be notoriously difficult to write humorous pieces for. I should not attempt the funeral trade, nor any crisis service or legal business.  I did poke fun at dentistry while I was a dentist, but have left it alone since retiring. This way I cannot be accused of dated humour.

Likewise, some topics bear little laughter from outside the fold – religions and political movements are a good example. People involved deeply in any of those fields are not inclined to laugh at themselves nor at anyone else. Laughter invites relaxation and friendliness and few religious or political figures want to be tainted with that sort of accusation.

As for writing jokes for other people to present…well, bring it on. But be warned that if I am going to get other people to laugh with you, I will also be providing them with an opportunity to laugh at you. Are you stalwart enough to join with them on both occasions?

The Dad Joke

Joke

We are a sad society when we fail to see the goodness around us. Particularly when we fail to give credit where it is due – to the fathers of the world who tell jokes to their children. In particular to that selfless band of men who tell Dad Jokes.

For anyone who has been in the jungle since 1945 and has not experienced modern life, the Dad Joke is a humorous animal that stalks the helpless child but does it slowly and then runs over them in the gentlest possible way. How could it be otherwise – after all it is generally pretty lame.

Thus you can ask a 5-year-old what is brown and sticky and when they are just about to shout out ” poop!” you say ” a stick “. The humour and rage that chases over their face alternately is a joy to behold. You can do Knock Knock jokes that were stinkers in 1956 and still get away with them. If the child is in a car seat restraint they can’t get away either.

The best audience, however, is not the helpless toddler. It is the sophisticate at the cocktail party – the adult who has a vast vocabulary of bad language, indulges in sexual or racial humour, and considers themselves far too cool even to register on a thermometer. If you start an anecdote in a manner that suggests that it too will be suggestive, drag it out with extra preparation, and then deliver a certified Dad Joke, you will be heartily detested but untouchable. If they are caught out expecting a penis but getting a peanut, they look worse than you. Particularly if you employ the phrase ” If you know what I mean…” or ” Geddit…? “.

It is worth while practising in a mirror until you can deliver the jokes with smirks, leers, and raised eyebrows. Making a Tsch Tsch sound with your tongue is also good, particularly if the listener is a female of a certain age.

As a social tactic it is well up there with the practice of addressing everyone in the third person…such as ” How’s ( insert full name ) doing? when you are speaking directly to full name in the first place. You may add an age reference to increase the effect, and if you really want to ignite the love you add “the” and a title or relationship. Let me give you an example:

You go to someone’s house, wait until they pour you a glass of their liquor, and then turn to them and brightly say:

” And How’s The Young Fellow Doing? ” or “Well How’s The Old Brother-In-Law Feeling Today, Eh, Eh, Eh…?”

Then turn away before any reply is possible – head for the drinks table and slope off somewhere else. You will have made a social hit, and with luck, it will be below the waterline.